Let’s Play: Water Paints

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Water Paints

Heat advisories. Pop-up thunderstorms. Summer vacations and summer stay-cations. We have been seeking projects and play that are low key and relaxing on a hot summer day;  projects that involve family interactions while being indoors near a fan, out of the summer sun and downpours!

In my search for projects for a summer art program, I came across a water color paint recipe. We have tried to concoct our own from a stack of recipes. Many are just not quiet right. The recipe found at the link above solves many of the problems we have encountered…

This recipe has good consistency due to the syrup binder. You can mix infinite colors with food coloring drops. You might already have the ingredients right in your kitchen cupboard! They dry nicely and re-activiate with a few drops of water. The paints can become very thin and light to make delicate washes. They can also have a thickness and texture that is not possible with children’s watercolors purchased from the store… plus its really satisfying to make and create using handmade paints!

The only downside—the paints are not color fast because of the food coloring. Paintings will fade in the sun. I decided all the mixing and painting fun we could have with this project outweighs the fading.

Grab the kiddos. Collect the ingredients. Start mixing. As the recipe suggests, let the kids mix the vinegar and baking soda. Always entertainment. Volcanoes will erupt so pour slowly or use a big bowl. The rest of the ingredients are best mixed by an adult or older kids. This recipe will fill two full ice cube trays. Let the color mixing begin. The ideas will come. The color references will follow. Grass green. Camo green. Booger green. All part of the fun. My daughter remembered all sorts of color mixing tricks learned in art class during the school year. In this heat and humidity, our paints took days to dry. You could speed this up by placing them near a fan.

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Once the paints are dry, it is easy to get the paint flowing with a few drops of water. Soft brushes work best but try all kinds for different strokes and textures. If you leave the paint thick, it dries thick. Paint anything. Draw first and paint on top. Pencil lines will not run when wet. Washable markers will run and blend with the paints. Draw with oil pastels and then paint for a resist. Toss a pinch of salt on top of paint puddles for a great texture. Brush off the salt when dry. After the work is dry, you can draw with permanent markers for bold lines.

You can paint actual people, places or things. You can make dots or lines or squiggles. You can make a shared painting by having one person start and then pass the paper down the table to the next for collaboration.

For more creative-free play, make your own homemade paint brushes!

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Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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